Invasive alien species pose one of the most serious threats to our environment, affecting all regions of the United States and every nation in the world. They may be as damaging to native species and ecosystems on a global scale as the loss and degradation of habitats. Defined as "non-native organisms that harm, or have the potential to harm, the environment, economy, or human health," invasive alien species are increasingly to blame for causing substantial agricultural, ecological, economic, and epidemiological harm. From zebra mussels in the Great Lakes to introduced mammals on the Hawaiian Islands and to the Asian long-horned beetle in New England, the impacts of invasive species on ecosystems and indeed on food and water security are immense and oftentimes irreversible. Marine examples include the European green crab on both the U.S. east and west coasts and the lionfish off the eastern U.S. shores. In Europe, the alga Caulerpa has essentially pushed out all other algae in the Mediterranean, overtaking large swaths of the ocean floor, and unlike its native counterparts, it is inedible to fish.

The debasement of agricultural, coastal, and freshwater ecosystems that has occurred throughout the world has made it easier for alien species to colonize, establish new populations, and become invasive. Global climate change is also a significant factor enabling the spread and establishment of invasive species. In addition, ballast water has become the principal vector through which invasive species have become one of the greatest menaces to marine biodiversity and the world’s oceans. As a result of the confluence of these factors, the U.S. government has developed a coordinated approach to address the broad range of problems caused by both terrestrial and aquatic invasive species.

The scope and expense of invasive species in ecological and economic terms is enormous. Estimates of the cost of invasive species to the United States alone are in the tens of billions of dollars yearly. Annual federal expenditures on prevention and management of invasive species are estimated to exceed $1.3 billion. As trade, tourism, and transport increase, so too does the inadvertent movement of invasive species. In response to growing public concern, a 1999 Executive Order established the National Invasive Species Council which is comprised of representatives from 13 federal departments and agencies of the U.S. Government. Coordinated through the Council, these agencies are working together to address invasive species issues both domestically and abroad. Invasive species present challenges that cut across agency jursidictions and expertise. Thus, the duty of the Council is to provide coordinated national leadership regarding invasive species issues. The Council receives advice from the Invasive Species Advisory Committee, which was created through the passage of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The legislation explicitly addresses the prevention, mitigation, and eradication of invasive species, thereby minimizing their adverse effects on the US and international economies, environment, and human, plant, and animal health.

The Council adopted a National Management Plan in January 2001 that was updated in 2008. The 2008-2012 National Invasive Species Management Plan outlines five Strategic Goals for the Federal response (including overall strategy and objectives) to the problem of invasive species:

  • prevention
  • early detection and rapid response
  • control and management
  • restoration
  • organizational collaboration

The 2008 Plan includes vital support to accomplish the Strategic Goals through efforts such as data and information management, education and outreach, international cooperation, and research.

The State Department is working with other Federal agencies, states, tribes, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to formulate U.S. foreign policy approaches to invasive species, notably in the context of international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The Department of State also plays a coordinating role in the development and implementation of international treaties, such as within the Marine Environmental Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to control the spread of invasive species from exchange of ships' ballast water. Other international agreements that include provisions regarding invasive species include the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Department is also striving to increase international awareness of invasive species and facilitate regional cooperation to address this serious problem. Through the OES Bureau, the Department participates in the Global Invasive Species Programme, an international partnership that seeks to conserve biodiversity and sustain livelihoods by minimizing the spread and impact of invasive species.

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